What to eat before and after a workout

The biggest conundrum about teaching multiple classes in a row: you want to and need to eat, but there’s no feeling like Zumba body-pumping with a food baby. It’s frightening, really.

Trying to figure out pre and post workout fuel was something took a while; learning how to best fuel my body is also something that has taken a while. How we eat is a personal choice and an ever-evolving process- I’m always learning and changing (like when I finally realized that I needed some chicken in my life). While it’s definitely something you need to experiment and determine for your unique body and needs, here are some of the tips that have worked for me as far as workout eats go.

What to eat

Pre-workout:

Hydrate. Make sure that you’ve been consuming water the day before, immediately before and during your workout.

Coconut water 2

Are you hungry? If you work out first thing in the morning, you’ll either be ready for a meal when you first wake up, or not quite hungry yet. If you’re not hungry, it’s ok to skip breakfast until you’ve finished your workout. (Another tip is to try breakfast before bed!) However, if you wake up hungry, be sure to have at least a small snack before getting started. If you’re starving when you get to the gym, you won’t have an effective workout anyway since you won’t have the energy to support it. EAT, then sweat!

What type of workout are you doing? For cardio, I think balanced snack or small meal option works best for me (moderate protein, carbs and a little fat). For strength, I like to load up on protein beforehand and focus on carbs afterwards (while consuming a combo of everything).

Work snacks

Consider digestion process. Foods digest at different speeds, so it’s something to consider if you’re going to snack right before a workout. Choose something lighter that won’t drag you down, or if you’re going to have lunch and work out a few hours beforehand, make it a satisfying portion to last you through the workout. On the same note, be wary of high fiber foods before working out and choose foods that you’re used to. I’ve once had a really rich Indian food dinner the night before a race and well… it wasn’t in my favor.

Post workout:

What type of workout did you do? For strength workouts, I make sure to emphasize protein, and for intense cardio workouts, emphasize carbs (both options including a mix of the two + some fat). If you sweat a lot or worked out for longer than an hour, don’t be afraid to add some salt in there, too. A sports drink or coconut water are great options to bring electrolyte levels back to pre-workout variables.

What are you craving? Usually your body will tell you what you need after a workout. You may not be hungry at all, but just parched (I ALWAYS crave a juice after yoga), or yearning for protein or carbs. Listen to what your body is telling you.

Paleo bread  1 of 1

Always (always, alwayyyyyys) add in some healthy carbs. You burned them for energy, you need to replenish! Ideally, consume them within 30 minutes of finishing your workout to help replenish glycogen stores, encourage recovery and building of lean muscle tissue.

Here are some of my favorite pre and post workout meal/snack options:

Amazeballs

Toast with nut butter and half a banana

Small bowl of oats with protein powder mixed in

Yogurt with cereal

Small breakfast cookie or a baked one

Small protein smoothie

A fave salad

Greek quinoa

Protein pancakes

A steamed egg and fresh fruit

Protein cake

Protein cake 2

Remember that by fueling your body well, you’re supporting the many activities and ongoing processes it creates all day. Eat well, eat often, and fuel up on nutrient-dense goodies, with the soul-hugging stuff in there, too. While it’s beneficial to be mindful of macronutrients, try to avoid turning eating into a math project; focus on the grand scheme of things.

What are your favorite pre and post workout snacks/meals? Any recipes you love to make ahead?

Hope you have a wonderful morning! See ya later with the details on that crazyawesome angel food cake I posted last night :)

xoxo

Gina

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Comments

  1. Great tips! I have a hard time eating before a workout- always makes my stomach hurt. But I CRAVE green smoothies after!

  2. I love this walk through! Thanks for that. It’s sometimes so hard to figure out what to eat.

    My favourite pre-workout snack is a piece of bread with banana and peanut butter. Typically for my after work-out snack, I’ll actually eat a meal (usually dinner, since I workout in the evening).

    I do a lot of hot yoga, so I always keep coconut water in the house as well.

  3. Precisely how I eat pre and post-workout! Although I’ll never understand how people can workout in the morning without eating first. I wake up ravenous!

  4. Awesome tips. I’m pretty bad with pre/post workout eating. Often times my appetite just goes completely missing for hours, especially after intense exercise so I definitely rely on smoothies during those periods. And I’m a weirdo who has to workout on an empty stomach, otherwise I literally get sick to my stomach. It’s been that was sine I was a kid.

    • I have to workout on an empty stomach too. I have tried different foods, but nothing seems to work I still get sick. It can be really annoying at times.

  5. I can’t eat until after I work out. One of the reasons I’m such a morning exerciser. Means I usually don’t eat breakfast until about 3 or 4 hours after I wake up, but it’s what works for me. Then I have a later lunch and dinner. I have tried the 6 small meals thing forever but I just end up eating too much when I go that way.

  6. Such a great post! I always forget to eat after a workout unless it is around a meal time. Thanks for some ideas!

  7. I am definitely going to pin this post, as I have just recently gotten back into the working-out-at-five-a.m. habit. Eating at 4:15 a.m. is definitely not going to work for me, but breakfast afterward is a definite must. Thanks for the great ideas!

    • Fitnessista says:

      maybe try a high protein snack before bed if you’re going to wake up so early! so happy you enjoyed the post :)

  8. Thanks for the great tips! Drinking water before my workout is my top priority. If I go to the gym starting out dehydrated I know my workout will suffer because I’m dragging my butt! My favorite pre workout snacks are hard boiled eggs and oatmeal, cottage cheese, or a greek yogurt,

  9. Great post! You are so right- proper nutrition can be tricky, and it is different from person to person. I get up at 4 and work out first thing in the morning- usually on an empty stomach. Now that I am marathon training, and getting into longer runs, I find that I need a little something before I begin. Usually a small banana works. After a workout, I always crave something a little sweet and carbs. My favorite meal is pumpkin oatmeal with a little bit of syrup and berries mixed in. So delicious, filling, and exactly what my body needs :)

    • Fitnessista says:

      to wake up at 4, what time do you usually go to bed? i’d love to be able to wake up at 5, but just not a morning person at all

      • When I was waking up at 4 am, I’d go to bed at 10 pm. I had to leave my house by 4:30 to get to the hospital I worked at by 5 am. It sucked. Now that I have more control over my daily schedule I stay up until 1 or 2 and wake up between 7 and 8.

  10. I wish I could get into coconut water, but the taste is not my thing.

    I love having a protein packed smoothie after a good workout!

  11. Great advice! I’m going to bookmark this, thanks!

  12. Awesome tips! I definitely could have used these when I was trying to figure out what to snack on around my workouts. With a lot of trial and error (Mexican is NEVER a good idea), I think I managed to figure out what works. I’m a huge fan of bananas or dates with almond butter (and chocolate ) before a workout, and of yogurt with cereal and fruit after. That being said, it’s not something that I really stick to strictly – it all depends on what I’m feeling.

  13. We have a lot of similar views regarding pre and post workout meals! I agree with you about the eating on an empty stomach vs. having a small snack debate. Also, I never have *just* protein or *just* carbs before or after a workout, but make sure to have a little of both :)

  14. I feel like I eat healthy and know which foods are better than others but am really bad at understanding what a good carb/fat/protein ratio is. I never know if I am eating too much fat or carbs during the day or too little. Would love if you could do a post on this soon!! Also, what are some foods that have moderate protein and carbs and little fat for a precardio workout?

    • Fitnessista says:

      any of the above ones are good options! a small smoothie is awesome with protein powder, fruit, milk of choice and a little nut butter

  15. Can’t wait for the angel food cake details! Yum!!

    I hate exercising (walking or jogging) if I’ve eaten anything because I get more side cramps but if I’m taking a weight lifting class then I usually need to eat otherwise I notice I don’t perform as well.

  16. Loving these tips! I’m always down for some healthy carbs so yippeeeeee :)

  17. In the am before a strength training workout I mix a light protein shake literally half a scoop with some coconut oil, berries, green matcha powder + stevia and after that I have either egg whites with vegetables or the same thing with some more greens added for fiber! Cardio I do coffee+ coconut oil pre workout and post I have egg whites, fruit + vegetables. If I feel dehydrated and my liter of water right when I wake up is not enough I will add some coconut water pre + post. Ever since I have been doing this I am noticing a HUGE difference! I can’t wait to try those amazeballs in my friends food processor so excited! Love + Shine CourtStar

  18. This has taken me a while to figure out too! I know everyone’s needs are different, but even figuring out my own was tough. I workout best when I’ve had a mix of protein and carbs before hand (wheat tortilla, banana, PB or some Greek yogurt, fruit, and cereal). I’ve been doing some serious strength work lately, so I’ve been loading up on protein after those lifting sessions—I’m already seeing a huge difference!

  19. I run first thing in the mornings and am NOT a big fan of running after eating.

    Races tend to mean 2-3hours between waking up and eating so I have to eat something. I opt for banana and plain Cheerios. I can be pretty confident that they’ll sit well in my stomach!

  20. This is great information and exactly what I’ve been working on to find the right balance for me. I burn about 400 calories per workout and have found that three meals a day works better, so finding the quantity of snacks per day that satiate but aren’t too caloric, plus keeping meals in check nutrition and calorie-wise are a work in progress right now. Thanks, as always for hitting the nail on the head with your great posts Gina!!!

  21. Thanks for posting this! I’m starting a boot camp tomorrow evening around the time I would usually eat dinner. Soooo I’m going to have to change my meals up a bit for the next few weeks.
    I especially love when you post the recipes. Makes it that much easier to actually make them! :)

  22. Amy Ramos says:

    I have one amazeball before workout and then one after with some chocolate almond milk. I will have breakfast about an hour or so after my workout (ie once I get to work!).

  23. I like to have a small bowl of oatmeal before a workout or race. Even though I love peanut butter it does not agree with me early in the morning for some reason so I tend to stay away from it. Afterwards I never feel like eating so I usually have a smoothie,

    If I have a bad workout then I’ll look back on what I ate that day. Eating the wrong food or not enough food can really affect your overall performance.

  24. Great tips and ideas. I’m awful about pre-workout snacks. I try to work out first thing in the morning but some days it doesn’t happen until close to 9 after I’ve been up for hours. I rarely eat before my workout because I hate the feeling of food in my stomach when I’m jumping around or running. Maybe I will try some of your suggestions for snacks.

  25. I love to make these peanut butter protein balls – they are just enough to cut the edge off any hunger I might be feeling before a workout (but also not leave me feeling stuffed)

    http://oxygenmag.com/Nutrition/Articles/Peanut-Butter-Protein-Balls.aspx

  26. Pre-Work out I usually just have a banana with some peanut butter and LOTS of water.

    Post work out I go for a protein shake since it’s so convenient, especially since I work out between classes.

    I’m planning on making a batch of amazeballs next week for post-workout snacks, they are AMAZING!! I reeeeally want one now, but am doing a 5 day juice cleanse :(

  27. I usually have a small snack before working out, but I have read elsewhere that if you wait to eat breakfast until fairly late in the morning then your metabolism will be really slow for the rest of the day. Any clue if that is actually true and, if so, could not eating before a workout have any effect on that?

  28. Love the tips thank you so much! I workout first thing in the morning without food and for m it work well. I need fuel right after though and mostly have protein pancakes with fruits and oatbran or an omelette with veggies. If I workout later, I have a Questbar or a banana – and I love your amzeballs too!!

  29. I prefer to fuel my workouts (and life!) with healthy fats. Lots of em. Now that I’m ‘fat adapted’, I’m able to train longer and harder using dietary fatty acids instead of relying strictly on glycogen. Plus, I don’t need to refuel or experience a blood sugar crash 30-45 mins into a run/bike ride, nor do I get an upset stomach. My fav preworkout snack is usually coffee + full fat cream and a couple spoonfuls of almond butter, then I just eat a regular meal after- usually a big salad with a protein and goat cheese. :)

  30. Hi Gina,
    One thing I struggle with when I teach in the evenings is what to eat afterwards. I usually get home from teaching around 9pm and try to get to bed by 10:30 to get up and do it all over again…I don’t want to eat something too heavy that close to bedtime but I know I need some protein in me after back to back classes. What do you recommend?

  31. amanda l says:

    This post has funny timing because I just ate 3 tacos and I’m about to go on a four mile run. Not the smartest idea on my part but gotta do what I gotta do!

  32. Great suggestions! Post-workout meals are so important and often overlooked! I love some protein oats or an omelet and a protein muffin post workout. In the summer sometimes I just go for a bit giant protein shake with fruit and almond milk. :)

  33. Great post. What kind of bread is that? It looks good.

  34. after a hard workout, I love swingin by starbucks and getting a latte, green tea, to be exact. Hits the spot! yum.

  35. This is exactly how I do it! I always have a small snack before I work out and always have protein and carbs after! #winning ;)

  36. Becky @ TheBexFactor.com says:

    I always have a smoothie post workout but its not enough to tide me over for long so I will eat lunch probably about half an hour after that.

  37. Thanks Gina! Great post! I had been wondering what to eat pre and post workout and this was very helpful! :)

  38. My friend started making these things we call chia shooters for pre- or post-workouts. She puts about two tablespoons chia seeds into a cup and adds the juice of one lime, about 1/2 cup water, and a little sweetener (honey, coconut nectar, whatever you desire). Let it gel, stirring occasionally. It tastes just like a margarita and it seems to give us a real energy boost!

  39. Love this post! Thanks- will be linking it up on Sat morning :)

  40. This is always something that I wonder if I’m doing correctly so I’m so happy you posted on it. However, I’m still a little hazy on what exactly I should be eating post-workout for optimal fat loss. A trainer once told me to never eat any carbs after working out (in fear of spiking insulin) but I’ve recently been reading up on it and following my strength + HIIT workouts with a green smoothie (almond milk, protein powder, spinach/kale powder, banana/berries or sweet potato) – would this post workout carb intake hinder weight loss efforts? I haven’t done it long enough to notice any differed results.

    Also, i know that coffee PRE-workout can be beneficial, but what is your opinion on caffeine post-workout (in terms of insulin). Thanks Gina!!

  41. Hey Gina! Random, but have you ever done a post on proper breathing during running? I’ve been running a lot lately and my boyfriend has been corrected my breathing, but it is hard for me. Thanks!

  42. It was fun !!! I actually got the DVD from my aunt

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